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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Five Ways to Enrich Your Teaching Life

We, as teachers, can't do a lot about many of the factors that have a huge influence on student success, such as parental involvement, health care, and funding. But there are a few steps we as educators can make in protecting our professional reputation, advancing student achievement, and making our day-to-day lives a little less challenging.

Collaborate

We can't teach in isolation. It is not a pride issue to ask for help. It is a pride issue to not reach out to those who might be able to give you what you need to make your job better, easier, and more efficient. We can't keep up with everything by ourselves, but we can be good at different elements of content, and we can ask each other to help us with what we aren't experts at.

Have you seen the history seventh grade has to cover? It's something like 16 countries, from 400 AD to 1700 AD. I mean, come on. Nobody should have to create an entire great curriculum, but you do have a responsibility to hunt and gather teachers who will help you create a quilt of best practices.

Also, remember that collaboration doesn't just mean curriculum development. It also means seeking out teachers who share your drive and your philosophies such that you can turn to them about any school-related issue. Issues that require great friendships to help you through include a challenging kid, parent, or colleague, the politics of the job, and the sadness that accompanies some days.

Stand up for Your Profession

Be a vocal and positive representative for education. There is a small but loud percentage of our own out there who may be ready for a different profession. Perhaps their lessons have shown no evolution from year to year. Some show an indifference to teaching all students, accepting wide margins of failures as par for the course. Some treat their colleagues poorly, and there are those whose anger or bitterness in life is felt by an entire school community.

These are the teachers controlling public education's publicity. We need to take the publicity back and make sure the press, the public, your community, and your school know the quality of work that goes on in your classroom. I think every new teacher should take a class in publicity for just this purpose. (A blog post on this topic is soon to come.)

And don't be the audience for these teachers, for heaven's sake! When they heckle another teacher in the staff meeting, or speak badly about a student in the faculty lunchroom, we need to speak up. When they make lazy decisions that make your job harder, make sure you defend yourself and let them know it's unacceptable.

Mentor Other Teachers

While I was working at an urban public school in California, my mentor got me through what could have been a dark time for me, helping me harness the challenges of the school into victories and lessons of my own. When I became a more experienced teacher, I vowed to give back to my profession by helping new teachers in turn.

When it's your time to give back, help new teachers by taking things off their plate. Help them with long-range planning, and share your lessons on those panicked mornings that happen to us all when we ask ourselves, "What am I going to do today?" Give them tips for classroom management. Give them advice on handling parent meetings. When they are called out of class, slip some decent sub plans on their desk.

Just think back on how many things weren't covered by your teacher-education program. Be the person on the other end of the phone, an ear for their frustrations. The turnover in our profession -- about 20 percent -- is something we have a direct influence on improving through our mentorship and our camaraderie. Be a part of that improvement.

Be a Student

The best teachers are also students. Sure, they might still be taking classes, but what I really mean is that they are also lifelong learners. (Read a related Edutopia.org blog post of mine, "What I Love About Teaching.")

Find ways to increase your own content knowledge about the subjects you teach. Find ways for the students to teach you. Remember, those who do the teaching are the ones doing most of the learning. When you give students those opportunities, they learn much more than they would from a lecture.

And when you, the teacher, become the student -- neurons firing, brain bubbling -- just imagine how much you are growing as an educator.

Stand up for Yourself

I don't care that we are in an economic depression; you can still ask for what is fair. If you are asked to run a club, ask for a stipend. You don't have to be angry about it. You can decide for yourself whether you'd do it regardless of pay. But you should ask. If you're told you are needed to teach six different classes or work an extra class during your prep or attend meetings after school outside of your contract, call your union and make sure you aren't being taken advantage of.

But you must handle things professionally. Everyone's looking to run the best school they can, and if questions come your way that ask you to go above and beyond, make sure that later on, when you're trying to revert back to the more humane schedule, you don't get dinged for past practice. Make sure you aren't getting the short end of the stick just because you didn't ask to see the long end.

Make sure you are doing your best in everything that you do, but don't be a Florence Nightingale, willing to take on more for nothing. It won't help you, your students, your individual reputation, or the reputation of the profession in its entirety.

I wish I could say that these five suggestions are easy to follow, but they're not. Standing up for yourself takes bravery. Being a lifelong learner takes modesty. Mentoring other teachers takes charity. Standing up for your profession takes lungs. And collaboration takes transparency.

None of these things come easily, but they are sure to make your job easier. They are also sure to make teaching, as a profession, one worthy of greater respect. It's a ground-floor, grassroots operation -- and you can be a part of it.

Comments (137)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Caitlyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed this blog. Everything written in this blog is so true! I can admit that I would not be as successful as a teacher without collaboration with my colleagues. We have weekly hour long meetings where we talk about standards and how to teach and assess them. This way we are all on the same page and have great, attention grabbing ideas for our students. Standing up for our profession is also a great idea. My school system is going through a time where we are being asked to do so much "extra" that it is hard to truly focus on teaching without worrying. My school has exceeded state standards for 6 years by doing exactly what we have been doing. We do obviously do not need the "extra" in order to succeed.
Another item that I fully agree with is the topic about mentoring. I am currently teaching for my second year and my mentor still helps me when I have a hard time. My first year would have been awful without having someone to help as I experienced the new things of teaching on my own. Teacher-education courses are pretty thorough, but there are still a few items that I had no idea about. My mentor was always (and still is) someone who I can run to when I get stuck.

Michelle Lyons's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog was very empowering. It reflected many of the ideas I am learning through my training for my master's degree. I found the words to be uplifting because they propelled thoughts into actions. I am becoming more vocal and aware in my profession! Thanks!

Michelle
First Grade Teacher

Tara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am working towards my Master's degree as well. I am new to blogging.This has truly been insightful for me. It is neat to be able to share ideas this way. I am fortunate that the teachers I work with in my building are very helpful and supportive. I teach kindergarten. One teacher on my team has taught third grade for over thirty years. She was moved to kindergarten this year. We have all helped her adjust to the change. She has also provided us with informations since she has so much experience. It is truly a blessing to get to work with this wonderful group of people this year.

Amanda Hooks's picture

These are interesting points that have been discussed. Collaboration is very important for a teacher to share their views and philosophies. I collaborate with my colleagues quite often about content and teaching strategies, but I sometimes find it helpful to discuss things with other educators that I don't know. I like to get insight from a variety of people.
I have not been a mentor, but I have been mentored my first year of teaching. It was wonderful. I heard nothing but horror stories about your first year of teaching. Thanks to my wonderful mentor, it was a great year. I hoped to one day be able to mentor someone and be able to make a difference for them.

Amanda Hooks's picture

I found this information to be very informative and helpful. Collaboration is an important aspect of teaching. I collaborate with my colleagues on a daily basis. Sometimes to discuss content and strategies that can be used in the classroom and sometimes we discuss our own philosophies on education. I find it helpful to discuss some topics with other educators that I do not know. It gives me more insight as to what other people think.
Mentoring is also a very helpful tool. I know this from experience. I have not had the oppurtunity to mentor anyone, but I have been mentored. Althrough college, I heard so many horror stories about the first year of teaching, but it was not like that for me. I had a wonderful mentor that helped me with planning, strategies, and classroom management tips so my first year was great. I hope that I am able to help someone the way that Mr. Mills helped me.

Kala's picture

I totally agree with you on this aspect. Teachers are one of the leaders in America, yet we are still unappreciated. I also agree with your perspectives of becoming a student and a collaborator. Everyone needs help somewhere in life, and do not be afraid to ask for it. That is how we create new ways of to teach our students and ourselves in the classroom.

Robert Ryshke's picture
Robert Ryshke
Executive Director of Center for Teaching

I really think you highlighted some of the most important aspects of what a good teacher needs to do.

Bob

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

Thanks for telling it like it is. We can improve our teaching, and it is not through accepting the status quo. Many teachers are coerced into mediocrity, Your article gave permission to grow and excel.

Sarah's picture

One way to enrich your teaching life is through an advanced Master of Education. The University of Texas at Arlington offers a convenient, affordable, and innovative online Master of Education for teachers who are constantly striving to improve their classroom instruction. UTA's program can provide you the new knowledge and skills to improve as a teacher and become a leader on your campus. Being a teacher is about being a lifelong learner.

Amber's picture
Amber
Elementary Special Education teacher from Olympia, Washington

I appreciated your comments on how to enrich our teaching lives. It is so easy to fall into the traps of isolation and losing motivation. I have spent my first years of teaching in isolation and it was a lonely and hard road. I look forward to developing a collaborative group like you described that I can find commonalities and enjoy growing opportunities with. I also like how you touched on being a mentor and helping each other out. I am learning the value of working as a community and the power we can obtain for student success when we do. Thank for your thoughts.

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